Schooling for Tomorrow's America
reviewed by W. Douglas Baker - April 13, 2015
Title: Schooling for Tomorrow's America
Author(s): Marcella L. Kysilka & Jr. O. L. Davis (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623963567, Pages: 178, Year: 2013
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Schooling for Tomorrows America, edited by Marcela Kysilka and O.L. Davis, is a call to action. Designed to give educators a good shot in the arm to renew our enthusiasm for the future of education and all that it can provide for American youth (p. xii), the book renounces current reform efforts steeped in high-stakes testing and challenges readers to transform their understanding of public schooling and contribute to debates on the value of public education and the embedded principles and practices of democracy. In Chapter One Davis states, We cannot stand as spectators on the sidelines of public debate about education (p. 15); rather, educators preparation must include our practice of thinking clearly and speaking directly, specifically to other adults in our communities (p. 16).
The chapters model these efforts. For example, drawing on his reflective lived experiences and scholarly research, Davis describes complexities, dilemmas, and challenges of inadequate state and federal funding, conflicting purposes of public education, and centralizing mandates. He prompts educators to recognize that despite what the current conditions appear to predict . . . adaptation and innovation are possible (p. 4).
However, readers must infer how to prepare to enter public debates, how to adapt and innovate, and answer questions posed by Nell Noddings in Chapter Two: When might [what is argued] be useful; under what conditions; for which students; for what purpose? (p. 26). Noddings urges educators to stand courageously against the reform movement that has oppressed education for almost three decades (p. 28), and foster cooperationnot competitionand critical thinking that cultivates listening to and evaluating fairly the ideas expressed by people outside our political, religious, or social group (p. 24). These suggestions begin in classrooms with studentsour future adult community members.
The authors represent educational scholars ignored by media pundits and state and federal legislatorsat least those of the standards and accountability reform movementwhose policies and practices belie much of what these leaders recommend. And though the authors dont always share the same definitions of key terms (e.g., democracy and diversity), the variety of perspectives, histories, and recommendations allows readers to infer definitions and visions grounded in research. The book implicitly raises a litany of questions: What counts as research that supports the claims and recommendations, under what conditions and for what purposes? And how can we lead others to recognize the value of research in order to provide vision and recommend action? Answering these questions depends on educators becoming more reflexive and transparent.
In Chapter Four James Banks argues, the biographical journeys of researchers greatly influence their values, their research questions, and the knowledge they construct (p. 44). Therefore, teachers and researchers must recognize how their epistemological communities have shaped and perpetuate selected values, perspectives, and actions. In turn, these reflexive practices have the potential to help students become socially committed, active and transformative citizens (p. 57). Readers should examine the authors backgrounds and perspectives to unpack theoretical stances and juxtapose embedded values. These professional development practices can become part of effective programs (e.g., National Writing Project described by Ann Lieberman in Chapter Three) that contribute to teachers identity, enhance their capacity to lead communities, to share their work, and to take on the responsibilities that Davis suggests.
Two chapters focus on diversitya contested, multilayered constructand its relation to public school goals. In Chapter Five David Berliner outlines fours types of diversity, including curricular, assessment, conceptions of talent, and instruction. He argues that the narrowness of how each is defined within the context of high-stakes testing cultures suggests that students might learn distorted or limited views on ideas, not think critically to solve problems, and therefore pose a threat to the goals of an adaptable and stronger country. In Chapter Eight Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Christine Power provide theoretical perspectives on the expanding diversity of students and the critical role that teachers play in encouraging others to value diversity as an important benefit in a democracy. Crucial to achieving this goal is preparing teachers to construct culturally responsive curriculum with support from a broad spectrum of institutions. In representing their argument, Cochran-Smith and Power demonstrate the transparency and enhanced reflexivity necessary to build shared and sustainable perspectives.
Four chapters describe issues of access and social justice, student identity, holistic education, and habits of thinking that contribute to democratic values. In Chapter Six William Ayers defines knowledge as an inherent public good and encourages teachers to be bold in re-imagining schools. This chapter pairs well with the argument presented by Alan Schoenfeld in Chapter Nine that everybody should have access to a liberating and empowering education, one that leads students to become more inquisitive, powerful and productive, and highly moral, thinkers and doers! (p. 109). In Chapter Ten Barbara Day and Elizabeth DeGaynor argue for educating the whole child and focusing on spiritual matters, even in public schools. And in Chapter Seven Deborah Meier expounds on the thematic strand of schooling for democracy by fostering healthy informed skepticism; the habit of empathy, especially when its uncomfortable; and playfulness, pretending, being accustomed to imagining otherwise (p. 84).
Gloria Ladson-Billings concludes the book by describing the challenge of public education, adding to Davis call for encouraging diversity in the teaching force:
Classrooms are complex organisms. The students bring with them richly textured biographies that go beyond their racial and ethnic categorizations and their teachers bring their own sets of complexities. [And educators] are charged with producing literate, numerate, young citizens who are capable of learning more and faster than any generation that has preceded it. This is no small task (p. 150).
These ideas are important for educators when they engage the public on issues of schooling, democracy, diversity, and social practices that inspire a renewed enthusiasm for the future of education. These efforts demand increased transparency, reflexivity, and cooperation among educators, teachers, parents, and community leaders. This volume provides a beginning for those dialogues and for the education of our next generation of community members and leaders.